WWE 2K22 Review

March 21, 2022
Also on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series
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After a stint away from the ring, the WWE 2K series makes its grand return with WWE 2K22 and, for fans and developers alike, there was a lot riding on this one. The bug-filled disaster that was WWE 2K20 was followed by an unprecedented fallow period for the series and Visual Concepts needed to deliver if wrestling fans were to step through their virtual ropes once again. Thankfully a whole raft of improvements make WWE 2K22, not just the best in the series but one of the best professional wrestling games in years.

WWE 2K22 is the most ‘pick up and play’ a wrestling game has been in some time — something which not only aids casual players but makes it fun for everyone to enjoy. The tagline for this year’s game is “It Hits Different” and WWE 2K22 does well to live up to that. The simple, fast-paced, gameplay does away with overly complex inputs with the analog sticks in favour of a more combo-based style that allows players to pull off the kind of cool, intricate, moves they see WWE superstars perform on TV every week with minimum fuss. At the same time, players who stick with the game long-term will find a surprising amount of depth here, with a vast array of moves in each wrestler’s arsenal and a revamped reversal system to master. There’s also been a tweak to sound design to make strikes and moves feel more impactful with a range of audible reactions from the wrestlers too. All of this comes together in a way that makes the action between the ropes feel incredibly satisfying.

Moreover, it often looks and feels like the actual action fans can see in real life. The nature of professional wrestling means it’s often hard to capture that kind of back and forth in a video game. WWE 2K22 still struggles in this regard as well, but the changes made here definitely allow for matches to flow better and emulate a real-life bout. This is even more evident in multiplayer, with two (or more) players who are familiar with the new gameplay style can put on a mat classic.

Whilst the improvements to the core striking and grappling mechanics can’t be glossed over, it’s important to recognise that this kind of overhaul is only possible when a developer receives extended time to make these changes. The break from an annual release allowed Viscual Concepts to efocus and better understand the needs and wants of both casual wrestling game fans and the hardcore WWE 2K community. That feedback loop is integral to the development of this game and how good the core gameplay has become. Furthermore, it’s allowed the developer to reintroduce fan favourite modes, overhaul the career mode and add the appropriate level of polish to make WWE 2K22 the best looking wrestling game ever as well. It’s made WWE 2K22 a game people want to play.  

Dialling it up!

There are plenty of modes to spend time with too. The array of match types for one-off bouts is incredibly extensive, although that’s to be expected given the series’ lineage. Those who want to try their hand at longer-term wrestling experiences also have a number of options.

MyRise is the de facto career/story mode in WWE 2K22. Here players can choose to create a male or female superstar and rise through the ranks of WWE developmental, into NXT, and then onto the main roster. You’ll tangle with current stars and interact with wrestling legends on your way to superstardom and there are a few branching paths depending on options you choose in the primitive but welcome dialogue choices. There’s some pretty poor, although still appreciated, voice acting from the likes of Shawn Michaels and Road Dogg here too. Admittedly, I have pretty low expectations for any mode like this in a sports game but MyRise does a lot more than I had anticipated even if it all feels a little stilted outside of the matches themselves. There are plenty of fun moments though and if the storylines are your favourite part of WWE you’ll likely get a kick out of them.

If you prefer to relive WWE history rather than rewrite it, Showcase Mode also returns in this instalment. The spotlight this time around falls on one of wrestling’s most recognisable stars — Rey Mysterio. Showcase Mode allows players to play through key moments of Mysterio’s lengthy career. Classic bouts such as the famous Halloween Havoc 1998 match versus the late, great, Eddie Guerrero are covered alongside more contemporary contests and it’s an interesting if incomplete timeline of the masked wrestler’s time in the ring. The matches play out as they typically would, but with players having a list of objectives to complete as opposed to simply winning a match however possible. Whilst I’m a fan of the concept and have really appreciated it in previous games, the choice to break up matches and feature crucial moments in archive footage as opposed to having me play them out myself or have them rendered in-engine took me out of the experience entirely. I often felt like I wasn’t playing the game all that much and it took a lot of the shine off what could otherwise have been a playable celebration of the career of an iconic wrestler.

If, like me, you’re looking for something with more freedom then Universe Mode will have you covered. Here you’re picking your roster, running the shows, booking the matches, setting the feuds, and playing the matches should you want to. You have the keys to the kingdom to shape WWE (or perhaps a rival promotion?) in your own image. This is the mode I traditionally spend the most time with and it remains a compelling experience for those who want to oversee every aspect of the wrestling business — or the ones the game wants you to, at least. Those who have played a WWE 2K game before know the drill here and outside of a few small tweaks not much has changed. Still, Universe Mode remains, as far as I’m concerned, the core mode for the hardcore wrestling fans out there.

Rock vs Cena: Fifteenth Time in a Lifetime

“But what about MyGM Mode?” I hear you ask. Well, this is almost the biggest disappointment in WWE 2K22. The much-requested mode has been atop fans' wishlists since it was removed from WWE games in 2009 and its return feels more than a little botched. Like Universe Mode, MyGM Mode puts players in the shoes of a WWE General Manager (there are five to choose from or you can create your own) running either Raw, Smackdown, or NXT and pits them against a fellow GM (either AI or a second player) to see which show can win each week. Winning is based on star ratings for matches and overall TV ratings, all of which are dictated by the matches you book. However, during the time I spent with this mode, I found it to be incredibly shallow and not very fun to play.

WWE 2K22 assigns wrestlers a specific fighting style and MyGM Mode thrives off certain style combos. For example, pitting a ‘Giant’ against a ‘High Flyer’ should result in better ratings. As such, I often felt the mode forced me to book endless feuds between the same two stars and would punish me if I didn’t. On top of this, weekly shows only have three match slots and two promo slots so it’s hard to get everyone you need on the show and keep your roster happy. Whilst I understand that this give and take scenario is there to create a challenge, more often than not I was frustrated with spinning plates and grew tired of the mode very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good ideas here: I liked the constraints of having a salary cap and the need to book certain stars differently from others, but ultimately MyGM felt like a heavily-gamified version of Universe Mode that I wasn’t having fun with.

The other new addition to WWE 2K22 is MyFaction. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it’s a card-based game where you construct a team to pit against opponents, cards are earned (or bought with virtual currency) in packs and your results may vary based on your team. It’s the same thing we’ve seen time and again in other sports games. Whilst I appreciate the microtransactions being confined to this mode, I still don’t like it. Microtransactions aside, in my brief time with the mode I found it to be overly convoluted and very repetitive. 2K is offering timed and themed challenges through this mode and glimpses of wrestlers, or versions of wrestlers, otherwise not included in the game as of yet — an odd choice — but nothing about this mode jumped out at me or felt like I or anyone else should invest significant time in it.

Whilst MyFaction may be the lowest point in WWE 2K22, its highest point may well be its creation suite. A staple of wrestling games for generations, none are more complete than the one found in this latest game. It’s well documented that a great creation suite can keep a wrestling game supported for years and, if required, that could easily be the case here. Whilst I’m not a creator myself, witnessing some of the incredible things that the community has already produced is astounding. Almost immediately after the game’s launch you could find high quality creations of wrestlers, arenas, championships and more that are otherwise not available in the game. And with 100 download slots available (albeit with a cap on images) there’s an opportunity here for players to never play as a member of the main game’s roster whilst playing WWE 2K22. Furthermore, cross platform creations are available here for the first time allowing the incredibly talented community to share their work even to even more players than before. 

WWE 2K22 might just be ‘The Man’ when it comes to modern wrestling video games

To touch briefly on the roster, WWE 2K22 does feature 168 superstars to play as (this includes variants, unlockables and current DLC characters). A roster this size is more than capable of keeping any fan busy. However, there are some strange omissions from the game that fans will notice from the outset; including some current WWE champions. Some of these wrestlers (like WWE UK Champion Ilja Dragunov) are already announced to be arriving via extensive DLC packs later in the year, but trying to figure out when the roster was content locked is intriguing. Plus, for those interested, there’s more than a Royal Rumble’s worth of stars included here that are no longer with the company. There are always a few that slip through, but it’s never been at this scale. All the better for Universe Mode though, I guess?

WWE 2K22 is undisputed when it comes to big-budget pro wrestling games. Whilst it’s not without some glaring faults, its list of modes and match-types is outstanding, the sheer amoung of playable characters is unparalleled, and its best-in-class creation suite provides endless opportunties to hardcore fans. However, the almost complete rebuild of the gameplay engine has made playing a wrestling game more fun and approachable than it has been in years. That alone stands head and shoulders above everything else here. 

As someone who considers themselves a big wrestling fan (although not necessarily WWE these days), my interest in previous iterations of the 2K series has waned very quickly. I know that won’t be the case with WWE 2K22, and that’s the bottom line… 

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WWE 2K22 is the best wrestling game to be released in close to a decade. Whilst not all of its modes will inspire, the overhaul to gameplay has made the action between the ropes so much more fun in a way that will please casual and hardcore fans alike.
Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.